Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship Program

Ein globales Fellowship Programm in der Kinder- und Jugendforschung

Herausragende Wissenschaftler aus verschiedenen Forschungsdisziplinen sollen sich in der Kinder- und Jugendforschung gezielt weiterentwickeln können, um mit ihrer Forschungsarbeit die Entwicklungs und Lernbedingungen von Kindern und Jugendlichen nachhaltig zu verbessern.

Das Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship Program bietet herausragenden und innovativen Nachwuchswissenschaftlern und etablierten Forschern eine unabhängige und wettbewerbsorientierte Förderung. Im Rahmen eines dreijährigen Stipendiums sollen die Fellows sich auf ihre Projekte in der Kinder- und Jugendforschung konzentrieren können. Gefördert werden Wissenschaftler aus den verschiedensten Forschungsdisziplinen, insbesondere gesucht ist, wer Genetik, Epigenetik, Neurobiologie sowie Verhaltens- und Sozialforschung miteinander kombiniert.

Parallel dazu bauen die Fellows durch den aktiven Austausch untereinander sowie mit der Jacobs Foundation ein nachhaltiges, internationales Netzwerk in der Kinder- und Jugendforschung auf.

Unabhängige Förderung:
Jacobs Early Career Research FellowshipJacobs Advanced Research Fellowship
Zielgruppe:Junge, talentierte Wissenschaftler tätig im Bereich der Jugend- und Kinderentwicklung. Ideale Kandidaten haben ihren Doktortitel vor nicht mehr als sieben Jahren abgeschlossen.Die innovativsten, etablierten Wissenschaftler tätig im Bereich der Jugend- und Kinderentwicklung. Ideale Kandidaten haben ihren Doktortitel vor nicht mehr als 15 Jahren abgeschlossen.
Förderbetrag:150'000 CHF300'000 CHF
Förderdauer:3 Jahre3 Jahre
Anzahl Fellowships per Jahr:7-112-3
Förderung darf für Deckung des eigenen Gehalts gebraucht werden:Ja, bis zu 50%Ja, bis zu 25%
Overhead:Bis zu 10% des gesamten FörderbetragsBis zu 10% des gesamten Förderbetrags
  • bisherige wissenschaftliche Leistungen, Kreativität und das Potenzial, in der Forschungsgemeinschaft mit Beiträgen zur Kinder- und Jugendentwicklung eine führende Rolle einzunehmen
  • internationale Relevanz des Forschungsvorhabens, Übereinstimmung geplanter Projekte mit den Zielsetzungen der Jacobs Foundation und der Wille, sich mit den Stiftungszielen zu identifizieren und sich aktiv in der Stiftung zu engagieren.

Das Programm richtet sich an Nachwuchswissenschaftler und etablierte Forscher aus allen Disziplinen, die zur Verbesserung der Lebensbedingungen von Kindern und Jugendlichen oder zu den thematischen Prioritäten der Stiftung beitragen. Jährlich werden 7-11 junge Wissenschaftler in das Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship Programm aufgenommen, die ihren Doktortitel vor maximal sieben Jahren erhalten haben. 2-3 Fellowships pro Jahr gehen an etablierte Forscher, deren Doktortitel maximal 15 Jahre zurück liegt.

Lernen Sie die Fellows kennen (Kurzprofile in Englisch)

  • 2017 - 2019
    Elizabeth Bonawitz

    Rutgers University

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Psychology
    Rutgers University
    Newark
    United States of America
    PhD, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009
    Profil Links
    Social Media Links

    Research Focus
    Elizabeth Bonawitz studies the Science of Learning. Her research bridges empirical work in cognitive development with computational models of learning. She uses experiments in the lab to study how children learn from observation, teachers, and their own interventions (play). The computational models help to explain why learning occurs in these different contexts, starting with the idea that the mind is a kind of computer that interprets information from experiences. An important part of this work is to characterize how learning mechanisms interact with different early childhood experiences. She hopes this research will connect to educational practice, particularly in underserved populations.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    My research will investigate how different cultural and SES (social economic status) experiences shape children’s drive to resolve uncertainty by self-directed and guided-learning through playful exploration. My past research has found that children are more interested in exploring events that are confounded or events that are surprising with respect to prior beliefs, and children are less likely to explore functions following direct instruction to a particular event. What these studies have not yet investigated is how immediate curiosity relates to longer-term learning, nor have they asked how the factors that drive curiosity differ across communities.
    The proposed empirical studies will take advantage of a technologically innovative Mobile Maker Center (MMC) that my collaborators and I developed. The MMC is a movable center that encourages children to engage in playful learning about the STEM fields, all while collecting a rich data set of children’s actions, emotions, and discovery during self- and guided-play. The MMC also connects my research to a diverse representation of children from both privileged and underserved communities (who are underrepresented in traditional developmental work). With the Jacob’s Foundation Research Fellowship, I will leverage the MMC to ask specific questions regarding how children from diverse backgrounds approach novel causal learning problems.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    An important challenge for informal STEM learning research is reaching a diverse community of future “young scientists”. Furthermore, theoretical approaches developed in the lab are only as strong as their application to real-world settings. By engaging with the public, reaching families and discussing our findings about the importance of early childhood education and involvement in STEM activities, our technologically innovative mobile-lab will connect directly to the communities it seeks to serve.
    If we are going to understand how children choose to learn, then we must begin to characterize how learning depends on the sources for individual differences in exploratory biases. Contrasting findings across SES groups to help understand the potential individual differences in playful STEM learning approaches, and harnessing new technological innovations, allows the science to impact communities who would most benefit from the findings. The proposed research will bring us closer to having a formal, evidence-based understanding when and why playful learning can be deployed toward educational goals. Specifically, identifying factors that influence the drive for learning is particularly interesting because it could lead to understanding individual differences in childhood, with direct consequences for the development of training paradigms, new technological interventions, and educational practices internationally.

    Nico Urs Felix Dosenbach

    Washington University School of Medicine

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Assistant Professor
    Division of Pediatric and Developmental Neurology
    Division of Neuropsychology
    Department of Neurology
    Washington University School of Medicine
    United States of America
    MD, PhD, Neuroscience, Washington University School of Medicine, 2008
    Profil Links

    Research Focus
    Nico Dosenbach is a child neurologist and developmental systems neuroscientist, studying use-driven functional brain network plasticity. The goal of his research is to better understand successful brain network plasticity after injury, in order to improve existing treatments and to develop novel ones. To this end, he is studying the brains of children who suffered brain injury early in life, using structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), task-based functional MRI (fMRI) and resting state functional connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI), a method of functional brain imaging that can be used to evaluate regional interactions that occur when a subject is not performing an explicit task. He focuses on pushing rs-fcMRI and fMRI acquisition and analysis methodology to the level of individual children.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    The structural and functional organization of the human brain undergoes massive changes from birth until young adulthood. While there are downsides to the prolonged developmental trajectory of humans, it enables our superlative capacity for learning. Skills, personalities, preferences, psychopathologies and coping mechanisms all develop during childhood. Thus, the fulcrum at which our surroundings, parents, peers, teachers, counselors and physicians exert the greatest leverage over the rest of our lives lies at its beginning, in infancy and childhood.
    Human abilities such as speaking, planning, multi-tasking, riding a bike or playing piano are not the property of individual brain regions, but emerge from interactions between widely distributed brain regions, organized into so-called functional networks. Newborn brains possess only very crude precursors to functional networks. Thus, the brain’s complex functional network architecture is thought to self-assemble during infancy and childhood. This functional network self-assembly is thought to be partly driven by a child’s activities and experiences. To identify the environmental factors and principles of functional brain organization most critical for successful learning I am studying one of the most extreme example of successful experience-driven functional network development and learning; children who suffered large strokes during birth but developed without any cognitive or emotional deficits.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Stroke is surprisingly common surrounding a child’s birth, occurring in roughly 1 in 3,000 live births. In contrast to adults with stroke, children who suffered a stroke at birth often only have mild motor deficits, with completely intact intellectual abilities. Thus, stroke in newborns provides a best-case recovery scenario that highlights the brain’s full potential for successful neuroplasticity and learning. Advanced functional brain imaging studies indicate that complex human abilities emerge from the interactions of distant brain regions within distributed functional networks. Thus, cognitive deficits at least partly reflect disruptions of the brain’s functional network architecture. Using a novel high-fidelity functional neuroimaging paradigm for children, we seek to decode how the brains of children organize after early injury to preserve their intellect and ability to learn.
    We aim to leverage the border case of children who suffered large strokes at birth to identify the basic brain organization and environmental factors that promote successful neural plasticity and learning in all children. Such knowledge will be instrumental for optimizing child rearing and educational practices for all children on this planet, with or without brain injury.

    Michael C. Frank

    Stanford University

    Advanced Research Fellow
    Associate Professor of Psychology and, by courtesy, Linguistics
    Department of Psychology
    Stanford University
    United States of America
    PhD, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010
    Profil Links
    Social Media Links

    Research focus
    Michael C. Frank is a developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist. His work helps us understand how we go from being speechless infants to toddlers who can talk and understand language. He uses computational models and experiments with infants, children, and adults to understand human language acquisition and its relationship to other aspects of cognition, including social interaction and conceptual structure.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    Every typically developing child learns their native language. Yet language learning varies tremendously across cultures and individuals. While the most linguistically sophisticated two-year-olds will be forming complete sentences, many others will be barely uttering a handful of words. In some cultures, these words will be the names for things, while in others they will be words for actions or properties. This combination of universality and variability is virtually unknown in human cognition or in biological systems more generally. What are the sources of this variability? How much can be explained by culture-, language- and family-level differences in children’s language input, and how much is due to variability endogenous to the child? In the next three years, my research will be focused on understanding the nature of this developmental variability in early language learning through three related components: 1) building a database of word learning outcomes across cultures and languages, 2) gathering/analyzing data about children’s early language input across cultures, and 3) using computational models to synthesize across these datasets and quantify the effects of different factors on language outcomes.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    The goal of my work is to develop both theory and data that bear on questions about how children learn language and why individual children differ from one another. A better understanding of these differences will allow for the design and evaluation of interventions to improve early language outcomes. For example, many current interventions target increasing the quantity of language that children hear, without a strong understanding of what aspects of language are most useful for learners: in other words, with a focus on quantity alone, not quality. And critically, markers of the quality of children’s language input may vary from child to child, from language to language, and across development. Linguistically, what’s best for a two-year-old in a high socio-economic status household in the United States is not the same thing that’s best for a one-year-old in rural India. Our work will help develop data-driven insights into how these two situations – and many others – differ from one another.

    Goren Gordon

    Tel Aviv University

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Senior Lecturer
    Curiosity Lab
    Department of Industrial Engineering
    Faculty of Engineering
    Tel Aviv University
    Israel
    PhD, Chemical Physics, Weizmann Institute of Science, 2009
    PhD, Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, 2013
    Profil Links

    Research focus
    Goren Gordons’ research focus is on the intersection of artificial intelligence, developmental psychology, education and engineering. He studies curiosity using a formal mathematical framework which attempts to explain curiosity-driven behavior in children. The same framework is: (i) implemented in social curious robots that learn about themselves and people around them; (ii) used to assess children’s curiosity, and (iii) used to construct improved curriculum. The social curious robots are then introduced as social companion learners for children, in the attempt to promote learning and curiosity during long-term interaction and play.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During the fellowship period, I plan to further my research into the psychological and educational aspects of the mathematical formalism of curiosity. Initially, I plan to develop novel quantitative model-based digital assessment app games that enable the assessment of different aspects and instantiations of expressions of curiosity. The games will be developed in an entertaining fashion that will be tailored to varied age groups, ranging from 5-12 years old. This battery of assessment apps will be then used in a large age-varied cohort of children, in order to assess the age-dependent dynamics of curiosity. The study will be conducted in at least two schools, so as to maintain a coherent educational environment (within each school) and cultural and socio-economic diversity (between the schools). Once an age- and cultural-dependent curiosity baseline has been established, I plan to introduce social curious robots as an interventional strategy, such that children will be influenced by the curiosity driven behavior of the social robot. A post-interventional curiosity assessment will then be conducted to evaluate the effects of the intervention.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    In the Information Age, where knowledge is just a click away, curiosity, which is the intrinsic drive to learn, is much sought for. However, it has been shown that expressions of curiosity decline with age, on average, and the educational system has been suggested as the culprit. My work attempts to study the dynamics of curiosity with an extremely broad breadth and scope. Using quantitative model-based digital assessment app games, I plan to assess children’s expressions of curiosity in many different aspects across a wide age range and in multiple cultural-varied locales. This will increase our understanding of the different dynamics of curiosity. Furthermore, using the novel interventional tool of social curious robots I have developed in recent years, I plan to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of social curious robots as learning companions for children. The goal is to promote expressions of curiosity in children in age range of 5-12 years old, while being in the formal educational system. Hopefully, my work will enable a better understanding of this precious commodity of curiosity and will bring forth a novel, entertaining and effective interventional tool for promotion of curiosity, in the form of social curious robots.

    Kathryn Paige Harden

    University of Texas

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Associate Professor of Psychology
    Department of Psychology and Population Research Center
    University of Texas at Austin
    United States of America
    PhD, Clinical Psychology, University of Virginia, 2009
    Profil Links
    Social Media Links

    Research focus
    Paige Harden is a clinical psychologist and behavioral geneticist who studies adolescent development. The goal of this research is to understand how social environments combine with biological vulnerabilities, including genetic variants and hormonal changes, to shape the emergence and course of mental disorders and risk-taking behaviors during adolescence. Key outcomes include delinquency and aggression; risky sexual behavior; eating problems and mood disorders; and alcohol and drug use. Paige Harden is also invested in understanding positive youth development, particularly in the areas of prosocial risk-taking and positive sexual development.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During the fellowship, I plan to focus on a series of research questions related to sensation seeking, a personality trait that captures the preference for thrilling and intense bodily sensations and experiences, and its behavioral expressions. Adolescence is a peak developmental period for sensation seeking. Although conferring risk for maladaptive outcomes, a teenager’s willingness to take risks and venture into unknown territory might also be a unique developmental strength. I am currently working to (a) develop and validate a measure that captures forms of prosocial risk-taking behaviors in adolescence (e.g., artistic, intellectual, athletic, and interpersonal risks), (b) test the relationship between sensation seeking personality traits and prosocial risk-taking, and (c) identify the social and learning contexts that maximize the likelihood that a highly sensation seeking teenager will take prosocial rather than antisocial risks. In addition to studies on the prosocial manifestations of sensation seeking, I am also working to refine our measurement of sensation seeking itself. Finally, I am actively pursuing a line of more basic research on the genetic, epigenetic, and endocrine underpinnings of individual differences and development change in sensation seeking, particularly its relationship to puberty.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Behavioral risk-taking is a leading cause of injury and mortality in adolescence, and adolescent risk-taking can have profound consequences for educational attainment, health behavior, stress, and access to social resources for the entirety of the adult lifespan. By understanding the biological vulnerabilities and social contexts that shape the development of risk-taking behavior, my research directly addresses a central impediment to maximizing the potential of youth. Even small investments in adolescent functioning can produce large returns in health and human capital across the lifespan. Beyond better understanding how to mitigate risk, I also take a strength-based approach to studying adolescent development: How can parents, educators, and society foster adolescent thriving, and how can thriving adolescents contribute to society? In particular, my research will address how high sensation seeking can be channeled into pro-social risk-taking, such as creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

    Celeste Kidd

    University of Rochester

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Center for Visual Science
    University of Rochester in Rochester, NY
    United States of America
    PhD, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, 2013
    Profil Links
    Social Media Links

    Research focus
    Celeste Kidd studies learning during early cognitive development using a combination of computational and behavioral methods. The computational models act as formal theories of the relationship between various cognitive factors and learning, which she then tests using behavioral experimentation via gaze-contingent paradigms (a general term for techniques allowing a computer screen display to change in function depending on where the viewer is looking) and touchscreen applications. A major objective of her ongoing work is to understand how individual differences in cognitive mechanisms like memory and attention shape children’s curiosity and learning. By formalizing a theory of how cognitive systems relate to learning outcomes, she aims to develop and test educational interventions tailored to the specific cognitive abilities and needs of individual children.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    My work during the fellowship period will focus on understanding how individual differences in core cognitive capabilities impact learning, and how these differences can be leveraged in order to maximize learning within individual children. Specifically, our work will yield a more sophisticated understanding of how important cognitive factors (e.g., attentional capacity, encoding speed, executive control) relate to learning and educational practices. Our work will focus on three primary goals: (1) testing the precise linkage between these key variables across ages and individuals, (2) applying the analysis in increasingly realistic learning environments like those in schools and parent-child pedagogical interactions, and (3) using the relationships between these variables to design and test interventions to improve educational practice and tailor education to each individual’s cognitive characteristics. To achieve these goals, we will apply techniques to measure other cognitive abilities and learning outcomes across a large cross-section of ages, in both lab-based experiments and real-world educational situations (e.g., school). The results will be used to construct a quantitative description of how each cognitive component interfaces with educational achievement. This work will help us build the foundation we need to start applying these educational techniques to schools and educational programs.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Our work will change children’s lives by creating better educational tools that leverage differences in children’s cognitive capacities in order to maximize their learning. Children approach learning with unique sets of cognitive capabilities (e.g., attention, working memory), each of which impacts learning outcomes. The dynamics between these cognitive capabilities and learning, however, are not yet well understood. Our research develops formal theories of these dynamics by building computational models that represent and simulate learning processes, which we then test and tweak to explain children’s learning patterns in the lab and real-world learning situations. These computational learning models may then be used for a wide-range of applied educational purposes, including more effective educational interventions, curricula, and apps. One of our key applied goals is building pedagogical systems that adjust the presentation of learning material to suit each learner’s individual cognitive capabilities and needs. These technologies will benefit all children, but will be especially valuable for young learners with poor educational access and learning disabilities. My lab also works to develop technology and software that are free and open-source in order to make reuse and modification easy and rapid, particularly in developing countries.

    Allyson Mackey

    University of Pennsylvania

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Psychology
    University of Pennsylvania
    United States of America
    PhD, Neuroscience, University of California, Berkeley
    Profil Links

    Research focus
    Allyson Mackey studies individual differences in brain plasticity and development with an eye towards personalizing the type and timing of educational interventions.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    I am interested in understanding the role of exploratory play in shaping early childhood neurocognitive development. I will study how brain structure and function influence children’s responses to play-based interventions, and in turn how these types of interventions change the brain. I will work towards developing new open-source software tools to promote play and problem solving in preschool students.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    I see both direct and indirect benefits from my work. I aim to develop interventions that directly improve children’s cognitive skills and academic outcomes. Further, I believe that rigorous research on the importance of play in early childhood has the potential to inform educational policies and curriculum design, and therefore indirectly improve educational outcomes for children. I will work to ensure that my findings are translated clearly and appropriately for parents, teachers, school leaders, and policy makers, and to make the field of educational neuroscience more broadly accessible.

    Colter Mitchell

    University of Michigan

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Research Assistant Professor
    Survey Research Center
    University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
    United States of America
    PhD, Sociology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2009
    Profil Links

    Research focus
    As a demographer, Colter Mitchell approaches the interdisciplinary area of human development by focusing on the interconnection of poverty, education, and family context with genetics, epigenetics and neuroscience. He primarily examines how these social and biological factors mediate and moderate each other to influence socioemotional behaviors, cognition, demographic behaviors, and health.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    I will explore the mediating and moderating influences of genetic and epigenetic profiles on the relationship between early-life social and economic context on adolescent brain structure (e.g., hippocampal volume, connectivity between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex), cognitive and socioemotional development, and academic achievement. Initially this work will rely on data from the US population-based Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) birth cohort study, but a key goal of this research is to examine the findings from FFCW in studies of different ages and in international contexts. My primary interest is in examining how very early environments such as in utero poverty, maternal stress, and poor maternal health as well as very early (0-3 years) exposure to family instability (e.g., divorce), family conflict, harsh parenting, and paternal incarceration are linked to brain, cognitive, and behavioral development through multiple biological pathways. For this research I focus on genes and epigenetic factors (measured twice at ages 9 and 15) of three distinct categories: 1) imprinted genes (unique genetic regions with epigenetic marks inherited from a parent with strong links to fetal physical and brain development), 2) genes with established epigenetic-brain links, and 3) replicated genes related to adult cognition.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Many children, despite their incredible potential, are hindered by their early-life context and experiences. Other children, raised in different contexts, are able to more closely reach their potential. To some degree this has been known for a long time, yet attempts to close these gaps have not worked as well as intended. In part, this is because there are a multitude of mechanisms linking early-life to child and adolescent development, many of which are not well understood. In particular, the degree to which early-life contexts are mediated or moderated by specific biological pathways to influence learning is novel. During my fellowship, I aim to identify contexts and biological mechanisms associated with key measures of youth development such as cognitive ability and socioemotional behavior. Having a better understanding of the biological moderators and mediators that influence learning and development will inform future science and eventually public policies and intervention programs. My hope is that by showcasing the biological implications for these early-life contexts greater attention will be directed to providing environments that allow children to be the most prepared to learn and positively develop.

    Katrin Männik

    University of Lausanne

    Early Career Research Fellow
    SNSF Senior Scientist
    Center for Integrative Genomics
    University of Lausanne
    Switzerland /
    Researcher
    Estonian Genome Center
    University of Tartu
    Estonia
    PhD, Gene Technology, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Tartu, Estonia, 2012
    Profil Links
    Social Media Links

    Research focus
    Katrin Männik’s research is focused on genetic factors and biological processes underlying neurodevelopmental traits and their co-morbidities in human population. She is particularly interested in structural changes in the genome called DNA copy-number variants or shortly CNVs. In this field, her recent work has mainly been focused on two aspects: First, how CNVs in the general population impact carriers‘ health and affect individuals‘ development. Second, she is aiming to better understand functional consequences of rare CNVs and the complex etiology of rare diseases caused by CNVs—collectively known as „genomic disorders“.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    Although individual differences in cognition and education achievement are known to be highly heritable, studies have only now begun to identify contributing factors. For example, our recent study showed that rare CNVs in the human genome are cumulatively a common health and developmental problem. They explain a substantial portion of population variance in education attainment and are associated with a complex set of developmental and health-related traits. By using a large collection of genotype and phenotype data from European biobanks, my first aim for the fellowship period is to create a map of rare CNVs and investigate their health burden in unselected populations. I also intend to integrate multiple layers of molecular, clinical and neuropsychological information of the 16p11.2 CNV carriers to better understand the biological basis how CNVs „act“. The 16p11.2 CNVs are among the most frequent genetic causes of neurodevelopmental problems (e.g., language delay, social or learning difficulties) and pose an excellent model for studying complex heritability of cognitive and behavioral traits, inter-individual variability (why carriers of the same genetic variant are affected differently), pleiotropy (how the same gene impacts different organs), and functional interactions between genes. During the fellowship period, I am also seeking to collaborate with social and educational scientists on aspects that would facilitate the translation of genetic findings into individualized developmental support, especially for less advantaged children.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    While translation of genetic information and individual risk scores for common diseases (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease) has reached clinical practice, the complex nature of cognition and limited understanding of biological determinants has so far hampered a similar approach to support children’s learning based on their genetic variability. Expected results of my work will advance the understanding of mechanisms contributing to the complex etiologies of developmental problems and the impact of genetic factors on population variance in education attainment. In addition to their scientific value, these findings have a high translational potential in terms of personal risk evaluation and support plans for individuals with challenged development. For example, there are expected to be around 80,000 individuals with genomic disorders in Switzerland and education attainment of 1 person in 40 to be affected by rare CNVs. Our experience shows that adults who never received the attention of the medical genetic system often live autonomously but belong to a vulnerable fraction of society. I hope that my work will help raise awareness of children having genetically determined cognitive or behavioral issues, systematically identify at-risk children, and offer them support that takes into account genetically determined variability in their skills.

    Siobhan Pattwell

    Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Postdoctoral Research Fellow
    Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
    Seattle
    United States of America
    PhD, Neuroscience, Weill Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Cornell University, 2012
    Profil Links
    Social Media Links

    Research focus
    Despite significant leaps in the field of neurodevelopment, a deeper understanding of the molecular and genetic events implicated in normal and abnormal neural development remains to be explored. The current phase of Siobhan Pattwell’s research employs genetic mouse models to explore how variations of common neural receptors contribute to the development of particular cells and structures within the brain. Through exploring developmental, behavioral, and molecular aspects of both normal and aberrant neural plasticity, her research seeks to better understand the developing brain.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    Throughout the next several years, I plan to continue the neurodevelopmental work I have started, as both a graduate student and postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College, (New York, NY) and postdoc at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle, WA). Thus far, I have been fortunate to work on a series of neurodevelopmentally focused projects that have spanned various fields, mentors, laboratories, and institutions, all while enhancing my knowledge base and contributing to my passion for neurobiological research. Through future collaborations with current and former Jacobs Research Foundation Fellows, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of both normal and abnormal neurodevelopment. Additionally, through investigating the molecular and genetic players that shape the typically developing nervous system, this research has the potential to better inform treatment options for a wide range of pediatric and adolescent conditions. Through uncovering key developmental trajectories, this research seeks to inform when, during development, particular interventions might be most effective for aiding vulnerable pediatric and adolescent populations.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    While advances in psychiatry, oncology, and neuroscience have shed remarkable light on the neural plasticity involved in illnesses of the central nervous system, the majority of research studies have exploited the fine-tuned adult brain. As such, various pharmacological and behavioral therapies used for the treatment of a broad range of medical conditions – from learning disabilities to psychiatric illnesses to brain tumors – have been developed according to a physiologically mature neural framework. Such existing therapies and medications undoubtedly offer significant benefit to adult patients, yet a comparative lack of knowledge about the dynamic neural circuitry of children and adolescents prohibits similarly successful treatment outcomes. Through exploring developmental, behavioral, and molecular aspects of both normal and aberrant neural plasticity, my research seeks to better understand the developing brain.
    This research will allow us to better characterize both normative and abnormal developmental plasticity in order to gain a more precise understanding how the system should grow, function, and signal normally – informing developmental biology, cancer biology, neurobiology, and psychiatry alike – while offering novel insights toward optimizing treatments for a wide range of pediatric brain conditions.

    Markus Paulus

    Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität-München

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Prof. Dr.
    Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
    Germany
    PhD, Psychology, RU Nijmegen, 2011
    Profil Links

    Research focus
    Markus Paulus is a developmental psychologist who focuses on the development of social-cognitive abilities and social behavior in early childhood. In particular, his main interests are how young children come to understand other people’s behavior and thoughts, how they are able to learn through observation, and how they learn to cooperate with others. One recent focus is on the early ontogeny of prosocial and moral behavior in young children. His research draws on behavioral observation, eye-tracking and neurocognitive methods.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    I am very interested in the early origins of social learning: How is it possible that young children develop the ability to learn novel behavior through the observation of other people’s actions? This ability is of crucial importance given that young children acquire a range of novel behaviors and abilities through watching and overhearing others. To provide an answer to this question, I intend to run a longitudinal study in which we follow young children over the first two years of life – an age in which the ability for social learning emerges. One central aim is the identification of biological and social mechanisms that lead to the ontogeny of social learning. In addition, I would like to explore whether differences in socio-economic status are related to individual differences in children’s developing ability for social learning.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Social learning plays a key role in the acquisition of novel knowledge and abilities during early childhood. In particular, it has been argued that young children acquire the basics of their native language through imitating the sounds they hear in their environment. Moreover, children show a strong propensity to imitate others’ actions. In addition, imitation also serves as a social glue as mutual imitation has been shown to increase mutual sympathy. My key interest is to understand the psychological mechanisms that subserve the development of imitation. I hope to identify the factors that play a crucial role in the emergence of social learning in general and imitation in particular. Knowledge about these factors provides us with a basis for interventions that could promote the development of social learning and therefore support children’s ability to learn from others.

    Nora Maria Raschle

    University of Basel

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Senior Research Scientist
    Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
    University of Basel
    Psychiatric University Hospital Basel
    Switzerland
    PhD, University of Zurich and Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience Boston, 2011
    Profil Links

    Research focus
    Nora Raschle is a developmental neuroscientist with a background in cognitive and affective neuroscience. With a particular interest in typical and atypical brain development, her work to date has aimed at contributing towards the early detection and in-depth characterization of developmental disabilities, including mental health disorders, using functional and structural neuroimaging techniques. Nora Raschle’s work further includes the study of different developmental trajectories, the inclusion of early psychosocial risk factors and consideration of familial and environmental aspects allowing conclusions on resilience.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During my fellowship period I will further pursue projects in the field of pediatric neuroimaging and mental health. More specifically, this research grant will allow the continuation of a project for which we have already successfully tested 75 young participants with and without behavior problems (50 boys, 25 girls / average age 6.2 years) and their mothers (through mother-child-interaction, familial well-being, psychosocial strain, emotional reactivity, and physiological parameters). Our results show that pre-school and elementary school children with behavioral difficulties have a lower ability to self-regulate during acute stress when compared to typically developing controls as assessed by physiological parameters and are more likely to have mothers with mental problems. For this follow-up project, we aim to re-invite all participants and their mothers for clinical interviews, questionnaires, and structural and functional brain imaging (four years later). By doing so, we will be able to use clinical, psychosocial, and neurobiological parameters from early childhood to predict mental well-being as well as brain structure and function in elementary school. This data will enable us to assess a range of neurocognitive research questions using cross-sectional (at the preschool and elementary school level) and longitudinal approaches (using prediction analysis from the earlier time point to school-age).

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Brain development results from a complex interplay and many factors impact a healthy growth. Particularly the time span between early childhood and adolescence marks a sensitive time window during which differing developmental pathways are set. Along with a multitude of behavioral and physical changes, childhood and adolescence strikingly mark the peak onset of many mental disorders. This peak is preceded by psychosocial risk factors or early life stressors that pose a risk for the advancement of later disturbances. However, these risk factors can be rescued by resilience, described as the adaptability of a person to adjust or respond after adverse life events. While there is strong evidence pointing towards an influence of early environmental risk or resilience on brain structure and function, these concepts have rarely been directly investigated. The number of studies using functional and structural neuroimaging techniques in younger age ranges is still rare. Likewise, longitudinal research designs are needed. Particularly by focusing on very young age groups using structural and functional neuroimaging my endeavours can lead to an increased knowledge about basic brain principles, diagnosis, and treatment options, and may thus impact the children’s and family’s own well-being, ultimately reaching societal and clinical impact.

    Tomás Ryan

    Trinity College Dublin

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Assistant Professor
    School of Biochemistry and Immunology
    Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute
    Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience
    Trinity College Dublin
    Ireland
    PhD, Neuroscience and Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge, UK, 2010
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    Research focus
    Tomás Ryan’s research focuses on the fundamental biology of memory storage in the brain. Recent studies have shown that spatial memories are encoded as sparse populations of cells that are activated during learning and are necessary for the retrieval of specific memories. These cells can be operationally defined as „memory engram cells“ and the focus of Ryan’s research is to understand how engram cells are able to store specific memories as information. To address this question the Ryan group engages in experimental studies of memory encoding, storage, and retrieval in the mouse. The approach is experimental and interdisciplinary, including behavioral neuroscience, optogenetics, engram labeling technology, electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and molecular genetics.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    All humans experience amnesia. While 33% of adults in the developed world population who live to be over 65 years of age will suffer from some form of dementia, 100% of the human population experience infantile amnesia, which is the loss of memories formed in early childhood (prior to 2–4 years). Though infantile amnesia is likely the cost of crucial cognitive developmental processes, it is also a constraint and limitation on education and learning during the formative years. Infantile amnesia is conserved across the mammalian kingdom, and indeed mice have been shown to display infantile amnesia. But little is known about the underlying neurobiology.
    Amnesia in general is characterized by an apparent loss of memory, but the underlying cause of a given type of amnesia is shrouded in ambiguity. By assessing amnesia solely on the behavioral or cognitive performance of a subject it is not possible to discriminate between the possibility that memory information has been truly lost from the brain (a memory storage deficit) and the alternative possibility that the memory is still present in the brain but is not fully accessible (a memory retrieval deficit).
    I have recently developed an experimental framework that allows for the discrimination of these two possibilities by employing memory engram labelling technology. Memory engrams are the sites of learned information in the brain, and are composed of ensembles of brain cells. By genetically tagging engram cells with optogenetic receptors, we can directly activate specific memories at will in an awake behaving mouse. I was able to show that forms of amnesia in adults are in fact deficits of memory retrieval. Though the memory appeared to be lost due to amnesia, direct activation of engram cells caused its retrieval. During my fellowship I will apply and develop this framework to investigate infantile amnesia in rodent models.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Early childhood is a time of rapid brain development and enormous neural plasticity. It is also when people first comprehend language and construct their basic schemas of the world on which education is built. Yet it is also a time of widespread forgetting. Virtually all episodic memories formed in the first 2-4 years of life are lost after the individual enters later childhood and remain lost through to adulthood. Infantile amnesia thus represents the most pervasive and ubiquitous form of amnesia in the human population. Its ubiquity may account for society’s acceptance of it – because it’s always been there and everyone experiences it, it may be regarded as a fact of life that we must suffer. But what if we could circumvent infantile amnesia and allow our earliest memories to develop steadily throughout development? Could this allow us to develop an entirely new educational paradigm? It has recently been demonstrated that other forms of adult amnesia are in fact due to memory retrieval or access deficits, where the memory information survives through the experience of amnesia but is “locked in” to the brain. Early clues suggest this may also be the case for infantile amnesia. I will investigate the neurobiology of infantile amnesia by studying memory engram neurobiology in rodent models. If the presence of infant memories can be demonstrated in adult subjects, then it may be possible to retrieve them and perhaps to prevent infantile amnesia for certain memories altogether. Such findings would open many new doors for the exploration of novel educational approaches for the development of knowledge schemas in children.

    Sophie von Stumm

    Goldsmiths University of London

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Senior Lecturer
    Department of Psychology
    Goldsmiths University of London
    United Kingdom
    PhD, Psychology, Goldsmiths University of London, 2010
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    Research focus
    Sophie von Stumm studies the causes and consequences of individual differences in cognitive development. Her research is driven by the question “Why do some brains work better than others?” and differently contextualized across the lifespan. For example in early life, she focuses on children’s differences in language development, while for adolescence and young adulthood, she studies differences in academic achievement and the accumulation of knowledge. Her research is interdisciplinary, integrating approaches from individual differences, behavioral genetics, and ‘big data’ into developmental psychology.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During my fellowship, I will explore the genetic and environmental basis of individual differences in learning using a novel study design that focuses on monozygotic (MZ) twins. Because MZ twins come from the same fertilized egg or zygote, they are thought to be genetically identical like clones. However, very recent studies have shown that this is not entirely true: the DNA of two MZ twins in a pair can differ in some ways, specifically in de novo Copy Number Variations (CNV), structural changes in the genome. To date, no study has tested if CNV differences that can occur within an MZ twin pair are reliable and if they relate to the twins’ phenotypic resemblance.
    To address this gap, I will select the MZ twin pairs, who are concordant and discordant for academic achievement, from an existing twin study. By comparing these two groups of MZ twins, I will test if they show CNV differences that are associated with academic achievement. Data will come from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) that initially enrolled over 15,000 families, who had twins in 1994 through 1996. This work will advance our understanding of the role of rare DNA variants for learning.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    My work informs the evidence base that we need to develop and implement successful interventions that improve children’s and youth’s learning. In particular, I will identify specific genetic and environmental factors that affect learning. Finding specific factors enables ‚personalizing‘ education to match each individual student’s needs. Currently, educational settings too often employ a „one size fits all“ approach. Although psychological research has shown since many years learning is more complex than that, we have only now developed the methods to develop and validate personalized education. Personalized education will take into account a student’s genetic predispositions, as well as his abilities, behavioral tendencies and interests, and tailor the curriculum accordingly. As a result, students will be more satisfied by their learning experiences and also accumulate greater knowledge and skills.

    Carolina de Weerth

    Radboud University

    Advanced Research Fellow
    Prof. Dr.
    Behavioural Science Institute
    Radboud University
    Nijmegen
    The Netherlands
    PhD, Psychological, Pedagogical and Social Sciences, University of Groningen, Netherlands, 1998
    Profil Links

    Research focus
    In early life many biological and behavioral systems are being set, or ‘programmed’, making it a period of risk as well as of opportunity. Carolina de Weerth’s research focusses on how early environmental factors shape a child’s development. She combines biology and psychology, e.g., by studying mother-child interactions and childcare, but also by studying stress, diet, and intestinal bacteria in pregnancy and (early) childhood. She tries to determine how these factors influence children’s behavior, health, and mental capacities. She’s especially interested in factors that play an important role in programming but that can be modified through interventions to improve the child’s life.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    In childhood, cognitive capacities are essential for learning new skills and participating in formal education. Many different factors facilitate the development of a child’s cognitive capacities: from socioeconomic factors and diet, to the quality of care. In my fellowship, I will focus on one potentially very relevant factor that has received little attention to date: the bacteria in our intestines. Intestinal bacteria have a central role in our health, but may also modulate brain development and functioning. Studies in humans have now shown that consuming beneficial bacteria (probiotics) can reduce stress, improve health and mood, and potentially impact cognition. However, the development of the intestinal bacteria in relation to child cognitive development is an unexplored area to date.
    My goal is to develop the novel and promising field of microbiota-cognition dynamics by performing highly translational research with probiotic interventions. Within the Jacobs Foundation TRECC program in Ivory Coast, I will carry out two probiotic studies, in infants and in preschoolers. The aim is to determine whether this probiotic supplement can be linked to better cognitive functioning. The ultimate goal is to improve children’s basic conditions for learning by achieving healthy brain development in a relatively easy and affordable manner.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    The aim of my work is to improve cognition, and hence school readiness, of children 0-5, as well as to improve their health, physical, and psychological well-being. Locally produced probiotic yoghurt has been safely used in children of other Sub-Saharan countries and found to improve children’s health. I will take the next step by testing whether a probiotic intervention boosts children’s cognitive and learning capacities as well. In any case, having good nutritious products by themselves, improves energy and learning capacity in children. The knowledge obtained from my project may therefore readily be translated into larger interventions for improving learning in Ivory Coast and other developing countries, transforming children’s education and future employability.
    I additionally plan to facilitate the creation of microenterprises dedicated to the production of probiotic yoghurt in cocoa communities. These social business models are ‘yoghurt kitchens’ that empower local people, especially women, and that produce an accessible, natural food supplement that benefits the community by improving health and providing women with an income. In this way I hope to further contribute to community development. These microenterprises will also help provide children with health-enhancing probiotics in a sustainable manner that will continue long after I finished the project.

    Markus Werkle-Bergner

    Max Planck Institute for Human Development Berlin

    Early Career Research Fellow
    Senior Research Scientist
    Center for Lifespan Psychology
    Max Planck Institute for Human Development Berlin
    Germany
    PhD, Psychology, Humboldt University zu Berlin, 2009
    PhD, Saarland University Saarbrücken, 2004
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    Research focus
    Originally trained in psychology, Markus Werkle-Bergner’s main field of research can be described as developmental cognitive neuroscience. Basically, he is interested in how maturational mechanisms in conjunction with personal experiences (e.g., learning, social environment) interactively shape the highly individual profile of cognitive abilities and potentials in each single person. Towards this goal, his research combines cutting-edge neuroscience methods with innovative experimental designs, including intervention studies, to uncover the neural and cognitive foundations of attention, learning, and memory from early childhood to old age.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    Sleep arguably belongs to the most basic bodily needs, like breathing. During child development, massive knowledge gains and improved cognitive performance are paralleled by a change in the architecture of sleep (the regular succession of different sleep phases) and sleep physiology (the expression of neural activity patterns during sleep) towards adult-like patterns – most likely reflecting the concerted influences of experience and maturation on brain anatomy and functionality. Given sleep’s physiological importance and the increasing evidence for its role in memory stabilization and integration, surprisingly little is known about the neuro-cognitive mechanisms connecting learning, sleep, and memory during child development.
    The envisioned project will combine an experimental approach with longitudinal follow-up assessments to observe individualized developmental changes in the cognitive and neural processing architecture of children and adults. In this context, our newly developed memory task allows the within-person tracking of learning histories for individual memory contents. This procedure effectively eliminates pre-existing differences in memory performance levels, but quantifies individual learning speed and potential. Moreover, it becomes possible to investigate the separate contributions of sleep to memory enhancement and the protection against forgetting.
    Continuous EEG recordings during learning sessions allow for monitoring of the neural mechanisms of knowledge acquisition. Structural and functional MRI measurements will be used to quantify inter-individual and age differences in brain anatomy. Sleep will be assessed by ambulatory polysomnography, which has the added advantage that children can maintain their usual sleep habits in their home environment.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    The huge variability in the timing of normative brain development poses a challenge for any real-world decision based on intellectual performance (e.g., school placement). Hence, it is of utmost importance to derive diagnostic tools that allow the differentiation of delayed normative development from stable differences in true intellectual potential. This problem can only be solved on the level of the individual child. However, unequivocal identification of personalized learner characteristics that could inform individually optimal decisions and adapted instructional technologies is far from trivial.
    Sleep is deeply engraved in the human physiology and is fundamental for the healthy regulation of several bodily functions – among them the human information-processing capacity. As a result, alterations in sleep architecture and physiology are highly sensitive markers of pathology on psychological (e.g., stress) and brain anatomical levels that can impair learning success. An improved understanding of the co-development of sleep and cognition will open new avenues for identifying individual learning potentials and developing personalized training programs for every child.

  • 2016 - 2018
    Daniel W. Belsky

    Duke University

    Medicine and Social Science Research Institute
    United States of America
    PhD, Health Policy and Management, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012

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    Research focus
    Daniel Belsky’s work investigates how genes and environments combine to shape human life courses. The goal of this work is to identify mechanisms that lead socially disadvantaged populations to suffer increased morbidity and early mortality, with the aim of informing novel approaches to intervention. He is especially concerned with factors influencing successful development of youth and how childhood-to-young-adult developmental trajectories shape outcomes in aging.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    I will conduct life-course longitudinal studies of how genetic influences identified in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) combine with environmental factors to shape successful development of youth. One focus is on results from GWAS of educational attainment. I will conduct polygenic score studies in cohorts from the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. These studies will test how genetic variants linked with educational attainment are related to characteristics of children’s families and neighborhoods, how they shape children’s early development, and how they influence the courses of their adult lives. A primary objective is to test how genetic influences on development shape the environments children encounter as they grow-up and how environments in turn may shape genetic influences. I am also pursuing work to test how genetic influences on children’s physical development and health shape outcomes through the first half of the life course. The goal of this work is to use new genetic discoveries as a tool to identify mechanisms of youth development that can be modified with environmental interventions.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    My Jacobs Fellowship research aims to identify mechanisms of successful youth development. Understanding of these mechanisms will inform design of public policies and intervention programs. The goal is to break down barriers faced by children born into materially- and socially-disadvantaged homes that contribute to health inequalities in aging.

     

     

    Silvia A. Bunge

    University of California Berkeley

    Advanced Research Fellow
    University of California, Berkeley
    Department of Psychology
    Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute
    Berkeley
    United States of America
    PhD, Neuroscience, Stanford University, 2001
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    Research focus
    Silvia Bunge’s Building Blocks of Cognition Laboratory is so-named for three reasons: First, the impressive array of human cognitive abilities arises from interactions among a set of core mental processes. The lab designs experiments to isolate some of these core processes. Second, cognition is ‘built’ as the brain matures. The lab conducts longitudinal research to identify the changes in brain structure and function over childhood and adolescence that can best explain individual differences in high-level cognition. Third, experience influences how the brain develops and functions. The lab studies whether practicing reasoning skills leads to changes in the brain and behavior.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    We have shown previously that elementary school children who played reasoning games improved on several cognitive measures, and that young adults who took a course on reasoning showed strengthening of connections within the brain network that underlies reasoning skills. While promising, this early work leaves open many questions: 1) Does practicing reasoning skills confer benefits outside the laboratory, such as improved academic achievement? Reasoning ability is a strong predictor of future math achievement, and therefore we seek to test whether improving reasoning skills could support mathematical skill development. 2) Why do some individuals in our studies show large gains in reasoning, whereas others show none at all? To predict who will benefit most from a specific cognitive intervention, we first must know exactly which cognitive skills are taxed by the intervention, and which specific cognitive functions an individual child needs to strengthen. To this end, my laboratory has developed several novel, sensitive eyetracking measures for use in our intervention studies. Ultimately, we will gain more traction once we understand how specific interventions affect the brain of a developing child. Thus, we seek to lay the groundwork for a structural and functional MRI study assessing experience-dependent brain plasticity in children.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Over the past decade, cognitive neuroscientists have come to the sobering conclusion that brain development is impacted by socioeconomic status (SES). Environmental factors related to low SES can negatively impact the development of the brain, including a region named prefrontal cortex that is critical for reasoning, and the basic cognitive skills that support it. These effects on brain development may lower the chances that individuals will have the necessary skills to complete their education and improve their life circumstances and those of their children. I propose to test whether helping low SES children to develop good reasoning skills could lead to improved academic success. To date, efforts to close the SES-related achievement gap have had only moderate success, because not all struggling children have the same cognitive difficulties. I seek to develop ways to determine when children are poised to benefit from practice with reasoning skills, and when they would benefit more from practice with more basic cognitive functions. This research is poised to yield clues regarding how best to support the academic achievement of disadvantaged children throughout the world.

    Laura Di Giunta

    Sapienza University of Rome

    Assistant Professor
    Psychology Department
    Sapienza University of Rome
    Italy
    PhD, Prosociality, Innovation, and Collective Efficacy in Organizational and Educational Contexts, Sapienza University, 2007
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    Research focus
    Laura di Giunta’s scientific work focuses on the continuity and change of individual differences that predict youths’ psychological (mal)adjustment, accounting for socialization factors, especially in regard to emotion regulation-related constructs and social competence. Her scientific contributions focus also on examining cross-cultural differences and similarities in emotion and (mal)adjustment. Her research integrates methods from personality, developmental, and quantitative psychology, with a view to identifying individual and contextual processes that promote adjustment and counteract maladjustment. Her methodological competencies pertain to longitudinal research and advanced statistics, such as latent growth curve methods and latent trajectories models.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    In the first and second years of the fellowship, I will gather data on Italian participants in the Parenting Across Cultures (PAC) study. Adolescents will be prompted via mobile-phones to repeatedly respond to questions about their emotions, their behaviors, and their parents’ behaviors through a method known as ecological momentary assessment (EMA). This study provides new data within the ongoing longitudinal PAC study, allowing the examination of earlier parental behaviors and setting the stage to investigate youths’ future mental health outcomes.
    This will have translatable implications to enhance existing empirically-based prevention and intervention methods with children and adolescents and, consequently, to reduce the long-lasting socio-economic consequences of mental illness for individuals, families, and society.
    The second and third years will be devoted to dissemination of research findings through multiple venues, including publication of peer-reviewed manuscripts in scientific journals, popular press media outlets, blogs, and the development of a project website.
    This study will serve also as a pilot test of the feasibility and utility of examining the aforementioned issues through an EMA in a diverse set of countries and cultural contexts with the PAC international sample.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Heightened concerns are resulting from the growing awareness of the high prevalence of mental illness, the quality of life for afflicted people and their families, and the direct and indirect costs to society. Lifetime prevalence rates in Europe for the main mental disorders are around 10% for depression, 11% for anxiety, and 2% for conduct problems. During school age, prevalence rates are around 6.5% and 7.2% for internalizing and externalizing disorders, respectively.
    My work will generate new insights by clarifying emotion-regulation-related processes in adolescence, how parenting could affect these processes, and what are the mental health consequences of such processes. I will be able to advance the generalizability of these new insights by studying them in a diverse set of countries and cultural contexts, beyond the limited demographic groups in which they primarily have been studied to date.
    My work will enhance existing empirically-based prevention and intervention methods with children and adolescents. Guidelines will be produced to advance professionals’ ability to more quickly identify, prevent, and ameliorate the antecedents and consequences of youths’ mental health problems, in order to reduce the long-lasting socio-economic consequences of mental illness for individuals, families, and society.

    Hanna Dumont

    Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung

    Post-doctoral research scientist
    Department of Educational Governance
    German Institute for International Educational Research
    Berlin
    Germany

    PhD, Educational Psychology, University of Tübingen, 2012
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    Research focus
    Hanna Dumont’s research agenda can best be described as the study of educational inequality from a psychological perspective. She studies the micro-level processes in families and schools that lead to differences in students’ cognitive and motivational development as a function of social background. She focuses on three main areas. First, she investigates whether family processes and parental behavior can explain why children from privileged families are doing better academically. Her second research area focuses on how secondary school tracking perpetuates educational inequalities. Finally, she investigates whether and how educational inequalities can be reduced through the practice of adaptive teaching.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    I aim to generate new insights into the instructional processes and peer influences that can explain how secondary school tracking as well as the student body composition of a school or class can affect students’ cognitive and motivational development. For this work, I will collaborate with Douglas Ready, Professor of Education and Public Policy at Teachers College at Columbia University. Our collaborative work will be based on a nationally-representative longitudinal dataset of US primary school students. Secondly, I will study the pedagogical approach of adaptive teaching. On the one hand, this implies understanding how adaptive teaching looks like in practice. On the other hand, I will develop an instrument that allows to measure the degree to which teachers’ instruction is adapted to students’ needs in their classroom. The long-term goal beyond the fellowship period is to use this instrument to measure the effectiveness of adaptive teaching in terms of supporting children’s development and reducing educational inequalities.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Only when we know what is happening at the micro level in the day-to-day interactions between students, parents and teachers will we be able to target the roots of inequalities between children of different backgrounds. Therefore, I hope that my work on the underlying mechanisms of educational inequality can inspire policies and interventions designed to support students of disadvantaged background. Moreover, the practice of adaptive teaching has been discussed in both practice and policy as a solution to the increasing heterogeneity of students in schools and classrooms and as a way to reduce educational inequalities. If I were able to empirically show that this is the case and to gather more insights into how instruction can be adapted to the needs of each student, this practice may be put into place in more schools and more students may be enabled to reach their individual potential regardless of their background.

    Gillian R. Hayes

    University of California, Irvine

    Robert A. and Barbara L. Kleist Professor of Informatics
    Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences
    School of Medicine
    School of Education
    University of California, Irvine
    United States of America
    PhD, Computer Science, Georgia Institute of Technology, 2007
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    Research focus
    Gillian Hayes conducts research in the areas of human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing, assistive and educational technologies, and health informatics. She designs, develops, deploys, and evaluates technologies to empower people to use collected data to address real human needs in sensitive and ethically responsible ways. In particular, her work addresses means for enabling vulnerable populations to participate in the technology design process, understand their own data, and use of these data to improve their quality of life.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During the fellowship, I will conduct work in three areas. The first set of projects will focus on how to improve the ability for vulnerable populations to engage in design and research activities around technologies that can improve health outcomes. This work includes developing and evaluating co-design methods and the technologies they create for underrepresented minorities, children with special needs, and transition age youth. The second set of projects will focus on how the everyday wellbeing of children and families relates to their device use and the role technology can play in supporting children in response to challenges to their health and wellbeing. The third focus area will concentrate on building capacity within the research community. In particular, during the fellowship period, I will work with other fellowship recipients to conduct a series of workshops that will enable us to translate the best practices of our own work to others interested in the intersections of child development, health, media, and technology. Additionally, I will conduct research focused on understanding how people outside of technology fields learn about, understand, and make use of technologies in their research and interventions with the goal of improving cross-disciplinary collaborations.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    My work seeks to understand how to involve children, young adults, and their caregivers in the creation, use, and evaluation of technologies that are evidence-based, empowering, and supportive of child and youth development. The health and development of children is intimately tied to the wellbeing of their parents and other community members. Therefore, technologies to support child and youth development must consider the relationship of that child within the context of their familial relationships and origins. At the same time, to create and disseminate high quality innovations, design can and should be inclusive. Underrepresented minorities and children with special needs, in particular, have limited influence in the design process currently, and cross-disciplinary collaborations can be challenging and limited in scope. New design approaches, guidelines, and technologies must be developed and evaluated with an eye towards justice, inclusion, and capacity building. In this way, technologies and interventions to support children and youth can be personal yet scalable and sustainable.

    Kaja K. Jasinska

    Yale University

    Postdoctoral Research Associate
    Haskins Laboratories
    Yale University
    United States of America

    PhD, Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Toronto, 2013
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    Research focus
    Kaja Jasinska is a cognitive neuroscientist fundamentally interested in the brain systems that support language, reading and cognitive development across the lifespan. She studies how early-life experience can change the brain’s capacity for learning with the goal of understanding how experience and biology jointly shape human development. She uses neuroimaging technologies including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) neuroimaging technology in combination with genetic and behavioral metrics and analyses to gain new insights into the biological underpinnings of language, reading, and human cognition.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    My research program examines reading development in environments with a high risk of illiteracy by investigating how (1) inconsistent access to reading instruction, (2) limited time and/or resources dedicated to learning, and (3) reading in a new second language impact healthy/typical cognitive and reading development.
    Firstly, I plan to conduct systematic research on how sporadic access to language and literacy instruction (in a second language) impacts children’s reading outcomes. I evaluate language, cognitive, and reading development using standardized assessments, and collect indicators of school attendance and labor involvement in children during a critical age for reading development. This reveals how the typical developmental trajectory for literacy responds to periods of interrupted instruction. Crucially, this approach informs when in development reading is most susceptible to the negative effects of missed schooling.
    Secondly, I plan to develop and implement evidence based instruction for literacy to ameliorate the negative consequences associated with problems identified beforehand. Instruction approaches will be developed based on the findings gathered, and informed by existing research on reading development and instruction and implemented in the community. I will compare reading outcomes associated with different instructional approaches, adapted from existing methods with the goal to establish sustainable education practices.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    In Sub-Saharan Africa, one third of children who complete primary education, remain unable to read adequately. Challenges to successful reading development include a highly variable age of first literacy instruction, often in a new unfamiliar language, in resource-poor contexts. Failure to acquire literacy compromises a child’s potential for future educational and vocational success. This illiteracy crisis requires education that is maximally conducive to a child’s learning. My research program is designed to improve our understanding of the cognitive basis of learning in poverty with the specific aim of providing classroom-implementable solutions that optimize children’s literacy and cognitive development in early life and promote sustainable life-long learning. Using the latest tools of cognitive neuroscience, it measures the impact of diverse and impoverished learning environments on a child’s acquisition of literacy. This makes possible the development and application of optimized literacy programs that best protect against and/or ameliorate the effects of poverty on child development. Such information yields new insights into optimal reading instruction in resource-poor classrooms, bridging child development with education policy.

    Simone Kühn

    Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

    Professor at the Department of Psychiatry
    University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf
    Germany
    PhD, Psychology, University of Leipzig, 2009
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    Research focus
    Simone Kühne is a psychologist by training but works mostly in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Her research interests focus on neuroplasticity and how the brain can adapt to an ever changing world. At the same time she has been interested in understanding how human beings can exert self-control and inhibition to counteract impulses. This later interest has lead her to investigate habitual responses, addiction, and other mental disorders.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    My plan is to unravel the developmental trajectories of addiction-related problems and video-gaming habits from adolescence into adulthood. Adolescence is a critically vulnerable time for the development of risky habits that can have significant consequences, including the development of substance or behavioural addictions. To predict these developmental trajectories I will use a large dataset from the multi-centre EU project called IMAGEN. IMAGEN comprises brain imaging, genetic, and behavioural information of around 2000 adolescents and their parents from Germany, France, the UK and Ireland. Data acquired when the adolescents were aged 14 years will be used to predict the development of smoking, alcohol, drug, and gaming habits at the ages of 16 and 18 years. This will enable us to identify early brain functional and structural as well as behavioural and genetic risk factors of substance and behavioural addictions and related psychiatric disorders. It will also be possible for us to determine protective factors to inform future preventive strategies. Furthermore, this unique dataset allows us to associate these factors with data about parents’ substance use habits, including mothers’ substance use during pregnancy, their personality profiles, and parenting styles which will allow us to gain deeper insights into developmental trajectories of addiction.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    This project will provide new insights into the neural mechanisms that foster or hamper self-control in the transition from adolescence to early adulthood and identify behavioural risks for, and protective factors against, substance addiction and related psychiatric disorders. If we are successful, our work will help to detect markers at age 14 that predict problematic behaviour at ages 16 and/or 18 years. Ideally, the results will reveal a limited set of variables that suffice to predict future problematic developmental trajectories reliably. On the other hand, the identification of protective factors may guide early preventive interventions in the future.
    The set of risk and protective factors that enable the early prediction of substance and behavioural abuse habits, will help youth’s on an individual basis to identify adolescents at risk of later substance addiction and hopefully guide them into existing prevention programs and to develop novel and better early-prevention programs.

    Katie A. McLaughin

    University of Washington

    Assistant Professor
    Department of Psychology

    PhD, Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology/Public Health, Yale University, 2008
    Profil Links

    Research Focus
    Katie McLaughlin’s research examines how environmental experience shapes emotional, cognitive, and neurobiological development throughout childhood and adolescence. Her goal is to understand how adverse environments alter developmental processes in ways that increase risk for psychopathology. Understanding these mechanisms is critical for the development of interventions to prevent the onset of psychopathology in children who experience adversity. She pursues these research objectives using interdisciplinary methods drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, psychiatric epidemiology, psychophysiology, and cognitive neuroscience. This interdisciplinary approach is critical to understanding the complex relationships between social context, trajectories of child development, and mental health.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    My research will focus on increasing knowledge of how and why early adversity influences risk for mental health and academic problems in children and adolescents. First, I will investigate how exposure to violence influences emotional development and brain networks that support emotional processing in children. I will determine whether disruptions in these processes following violence exposure confer risk for anxiety, depression, and aggression. Second, I will examine how early environmental deprivation influences cognitive development and brain networks that support memory, attention, and self-control. I will investigate deprivation associated with poverty in the U.S. in one study and deprivation related to prolonged institutional rearing in Eastern Europe in a separate study. I will evaluate whether deprivation-related deficits in memory, attention, and self-control increase risk for academic failure, aggression, and risky behavior. Third, I will identify factors that protect children from developing mental health problems after exposure to early adversity. My goal is to contribute to greater understanding of the role of adverse environmental experiences in shaping children’s development, so as to inform the creation of interventions, practices, and policies to promote adaptive development in society’s most vulnerable members.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Understanding the mechanisms linking adverse early environments to the onset of psychopathology is crucial for fostering the development of more effective approaches to prevention and intervention. Further, not all children exposed to adverse environments ultimately develop a mental disorder. What makes children more or less vulnerable to the mental health consequences of childhood adversity? Identifying factors that magnify or buffer children from these effects can inform intervention strategies that prevent the onset of psychopathology among the most vulnerable children exposed to adversity. Throughout my career, I have worked with clinical researchers to translate the findings of my research into interventions aimed at preventing the onset of mental health problems in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The ultimate goal of my work is to inform the development and implementation of more effective and efficient interventions to foster healthy child development and reduce inequalities in mental health. Altogether my goal is to contribute to greater understanding of the role of environmental experience in shaping children’s development, so as to inform the creation of interventions, practices, and policies to promote adaptive development in society’s most vulnerable members.

    Candice L. Odgers

    Duke University

    Professor of Public Policy, Psychology and Neuroscience
    Associate Director Center for Child and Family Policy
    Duke University
    United States of America
    PhD, Psychology, University of Virginia, 2005
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    Research Focus
    Candice Odgers’s research focuses on how social inequalities and early adversity influence children’s future health and well-being. She uses new technologies, including mobile phone surveys and wearable devices, to identify daily triggers of adolescent risk-taking and mental health problems. She also uses online tools to create high-resolution maps of children’s local neighborhoods and create “gene-to-geography” data archives to better understand children’s development in context. Her most recent work focuses on the effects of neighborhood-level income inequality on children’s behavioral, emotional and educational outcomes.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During the fellowship I will focus on advancing science and policy in two areas. The first set of projects will focus on how the increasing “economic distance” (or levels of income inequality) between low-income children and their peers influences later health and social mobility. This work will focus on how children’s postal codes, genetic codes and their own perceptions of their social status translate into later wellbeing and health. All online and geospatial tools for this project will be made publically available to advance research and practice. The second set of projects will stem from the launch of a “Children in the Digital Age” initiative focusing on the use of mobile technologies as tools to better understand and intervene in the lives of adolescents. Intensive momentary assessments, wearable technologies and geospatial markers will be embedded in ongoing longitudinal studies to capture daily environmental and social triggers of adolescents’ health-risk behaviours, emotions and mental health. The influence of mobile technologies on the development of adolescents in the digital age will also be explored.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Close to 90% of adolescents in the United States, and over three quarters of the world’s population now own, or have access to, a mobile phone. In medicine, mobile technologies are seen as having the power to revolutionize health care delivery, advance research, individualize treatment, and help to bring evidence-based interventions to scale. Unfortunately, most conversations about mobile technologies and young people have focused on fears surrounding their over usage versus on opportunities for positive social, emotional and physical development. As part of this fellowship, I will work with colleagues in computer and developmental science to harness the power of mobile devices for research and interventions targeting low-income and at-risk children and families. Powerful computing and communication tools held in the hands of many young people will be used to capture, understand and, ideally, improve the mental health and overall wellbeing of children and adolescents. The hope is that children and youth will benefit both indirectly, via advancements in science facilitated by these applications, and directly, through the receipt of more effective, accessible and individually tailored interventions.

    Amy Ogan

    Carnegie Mellon University

    Assistant Professor
    Human-Computer Interaction Institute
    School of Computer Science
    Carnegie Mellon University
    United States of America
    PhD, Human-Computer Interaction, Carnegie Mellon University, 2011
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    Social Media Links

    Research focus
    Amy Ogan’s research informs the design of innovative, next-generation educational technologies while building underlying theories of learning and development. With an understanding that the construction of knowledge is a social process, she addresses not only the cognitive aspects of learning, but the critical social components that are often ignored in educational technologies. As systems move worldwide, they have been shown not to reliably transfer across cultures. Her research investigates the cultural factors that have a strong influence on the behaviors that affect children’s learning processes and outcomes, such as help-seeking and motivation.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    I will be developing a theoretical framework and design process for the development of culturally-appropriate educational technologies. In particular, I plan to work in classrooms in Latin America and Southeast Asia to understand, design, and develop curricula for educational technologies to better support learning in ways that respect students’ cultural environments. My research has shown that cultural factors have a strong influence on behaviors that affect children’s learning processes and outcomes, such as help-seeking and motivation. Yet, technologies are often exported with little regard for the values, skills, and practices that students bring with them to their educational setting.
    This deeper theoretical understanding will lead to the creation of curricula that incorporate edtech in thoughtful ways. In addition, more broadly, it will produce design guidelines that identify places where culture may play a role, with examples of how technologists and instructional designers can adapt educational technology for particular cultural contexts.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    This work will significantly advance our understanding of how to best support youth learning with technology, specifically with respect to applications in cross-cultural contexts. This will provide new insights that are valuable for instructional designers and technology developers, as well as researchers.
    I will be observing both student learning as well as other outcomes such as stronger collaboration and deeper engagement with the curriculum that collect evidence for positive long-term impact on youth. Ideally, these outcomes will additionally lead to more sustained engagement with science and math education. My work is done with pre-teens and early teens, age groups for whom peer interactions are critical in their development. Thus, my work will likely move developers away from the one-device-per-child model to an understanding of how technologies can support students in thinking, learning, and experimenting together.
    Working to support organizations in continuing to implement curricula after the fellowship, will instigate sustained impact over time and building critical capacity for a network of participating schools. Having teachers and administrators who are advocates for a technology is one of the best ways to ensure further dissemination of a successful intervention.

    Liliana Angelica Ponguta

    Yale University

    Associate Research Scientist
    Yale School of Medicine and the Yale Child Study Center
    United States of America
    PhD, Cellular and Molecular Pathology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008
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    Research Focus
    Liliana Angelica Ponguta’s discipline is global early childhood development (ECD). Her research focuses on the development of national ECD policies and implementation plans, impact and process evaluations of ECD programs in low-income settings, and the use of digital communication platforms to broker knowledge and propel investment in ECD globally. Specifically, she explores the impact of decentralization on ECD systems, entry points for systems strengthening, and feasible and contextual national-level measurement of quality in ECD provision. She is also focused on projects that evaluate the impact and implementation of ECD interventions in contexts of high vulnerability.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During the fellowship period I plan to:
    (1) Conduct two randomized controlled trials on the impact of school readiness programs. In Pakistan, I will continue my work with investigators from Agha Khan University to develop and evaluate a school readiness program championed by youth leaders in rural Pakistan. In Beirut, I will continue our research with local partners from the Arab Resource Collective on the evaluation of the Mother-Child Education Program (ACEV Foundation) amongst Palestinian refugees and marginalized Lebanese communities.
    (2) Generate open-source webinar and podcasting series to enhance our experiential knowledge on social transformation, violence prevention, and peacebuilding through ECD. I plan to systematically explore the role of adolescents and families with respect to engagement and leadership in ECD systems at the community-level. My aim is to utilize systematically gathered evidence to propel a global dialogue on the role of ECD as a mechanism for achieving sustainable peace.
    (3) Provide technical support to governments on ECD governance and quality strengthening. My aim is to continue to provide countries with technical support in the realm of ECD provision at scale. In particular, I plan to focus on ways to measure quality contextually to inform policies and programs at national levels.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    Despite immense strides over the last decades in improving child and youth outcomes, threats to children and youth’s ability to thrive persist globally. My work aims to unpack program and policy attributes that can more effectively grant children and youth opportunities, environments, and support in light of grave structural challenges that include poverty, conflict and displacement. I believe that my work, by utilizing translational research methodologies, addressing gaps in our understanding of effective implementation, and linking practice to policy-level questions, can contribute to a much needed evidentiary base for effective ECD programming in fragile contexts. It is my vision that through my interdisciplinary research and international and multisectoral partnerships we can take significant steps towards effectively brokering knowledge and ultimately mobilizing investment for children and youth at a global scale. I also believe that by capitalizing on innovations in social media and virtual communications, we can be more effective in increasing buy-in for ECD and two-generational programming involving the youth. In light of the new Sustainable Development Goals, my work aims to address systems and institutional strengthening mechanism that I believe are fundamental to guaranteeing child and youth’s needs are met and rights realized.

    Nikolaus Steinbeis

    University College London

    Principal Research Fellow
    Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology
    University College London
    United Kingdom

    PhD, Psychology, University of Leipzig and Max-Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 2008
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    Research focus
    Nikolaus Steinbeis is a developmental psychologist who uses an interdisciplinary approach drawing on the methods of cognitive neuroscience, social, affective and developmental psychology, empirical economics as well as epigenetics to understand mechanisms of change in socio-affective development and decision-making during childhood and adolescence. His particular focus is on understanding the impact of environmental influences on the developing brain and how these shape the emergence of stable individual differences in social and economic decisions as well as affective styles.

    My plans for the fellowship period
    During the period of my fellowship I intend to pursue research questions related to the malleability of two skills essential for well-being: behavioral control and active coping. Behavioral control is critically related to social and economic decision-making and the ability to cope actively with stressors can determine the likelihood of psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. I intend to draw up a research agenda that systematically explores the role of contextual variables as well as dedicated interventions in shaping children’s ability to resist temptations in the context of prosocial and patient decisions and to cope in the context of fearful experiences. An integral part of this research is to explore the underlying neural mechanisms of such developmental malleability, both structurally and functionally. One key aim is to consolidate my network of researchers working on similar questions but with different methodologies as well as to reach out to educators and schools to maximize the potential impact of relevant stakeholders early on in this research program.

    How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
    One of my key interests is to understand the impact of the environment on the developing brain, particularly with regards to key skills such as behavioral control and stress resilience. Behavioral control is necessary for resisting temptation and delaying gratification and a predictor of future success and physical and psychological well-being. Stress resilience on the other hand is necessary in a world that makes increasing demands and prior to adolescence, a period during which mental disorders are most likely to emerge. I hope to identify specific developmental periods of heightened neural plasticity with regards to these skills as well as identifying the types of experiences that impact their development, either positively or negatively. I expect these findings to make a critical contribution in the discovery of periods of both heightened vulnerabilities as well as opportunities. This can in turn provide the basis for interventions that protect from harm and promote optimal development at time points when this is most effective in development.